Tuesday, December 01, 2015

The Crazy Canuck, Waterloo

I recently spent 2 days in Waterloo, Ontario.  Not exactly a destination for most, but I was actually en route to Buffalo, NY for a wedding, and decided to visit our Waterloo office on the way, to make a bit more of a trip of it.  Who wants to fly across the country for just one night anyway?

I was kinda excited.  Not because Waterloo is known to be an amazing destination or anything, but because ... Canada!  An exotic, far away land!  Yes, I grew up in NH, just 2 hours from the border, and I somehow never went to Canada when I lived there.  And this was before you needed a passport to pass back and forth too.  I also went to college in upstate NY, even closer.  And yet ... I never visited.

Prior to this visit to Waterloo, I had been to Canada exactly once before, on the West Coast, to Whistler for a snowboarding trip.  And all I did was fly into Vancouver and head directly to the ski area.  I can't say I experienced "Canada" in any way.

This means ... I've never had poutine.  Or BeaverTails.  Which my internet research tells me, are THE Canadian foods to try.  I asked my co-workers for recommendations on where to get these amazing "delicacies".  They didn't really have any.  "Go to a nearby Irish pub?" was about the best I got.

Thus, I began some research.  And quickly found my place: The Crazy Canuck!  It was a 15 minute drive from our office, which apparently was quite far, to the locals.  None of them had ever been there.  Nor had they even heard of it.  They didn't really seem to care.  Why? Because places where one can get poutine are numerous.  Basically any pub.  Or even at McDonald's in Canada.  Why would we go all the way to The Crazy Canuck, so, so far away?

Well, because the reviews were solid, which is more than I can say for most other places I looked up.  And, they even feature an upscale take on BeaverTails too.  Yes, both of the items I was seeking out, in one place?  My mind was made up, and it didn't take too much convincing to drag a group of 6 co-workers (plus one of their families), to the Crazy Canuck.

I stand by the decision.  I'd go back, if I wind up in Waterloo again ...

The Space

Menu Board: Part 1.
I mentioned that they make an "upscale BeaverTail", but, please don't take that to mean this was an fancy place.

You order at a register and are given a number.  Food is delivered to your table.  The menu is a chalkboard behind the counter (plus a separate one on the side entirely devoted to poutine, and another with daily specials).

The menu of course has more than just poutine and the aforementioned dessert, since not everyone goes there with the same two-track mind as me.

Assorted starters are available, such as salads (greek, caesar, house), soup, and "canuck bread".  We didn't bother with any of these.

Next up are burgers ("the best burger in town", they claim), and a bunch of other entrees, generally bbq-esq (pulled pork, ribs, chicken club).  Vegetarians also have a surprising number of options, including ratatouille, grilled portobello burgers, and even a quinoa burger that gets great reviews.  But no one in our group ordered these either.

Finally, of course, is the poutine.  I quickly found that no where sells just classic poutine.  They all have entire poutine menus, basically, whatever they want to put on top fries, they call poutine.  I even saw places with perogies ... on the poutine.  Um, what?

The Crazy Canuck doesn't quite go that far, but in addition to the classic gravy and curd version, they also offer up a baked mozza version that replaces the curds with mozzarella cheese (ok, not too crazy, just a different cheese).  Plus versions with meat sauce instead of gravy (and the mozzarella), with or without pepperoni, like pizza (still not too strange to me).  Then there is the "Greek Tzatzik" with red wine vinegar, tomato, red onion, olives, feta, and tzatziki.  And  ... "Curry Goat Cheese"?  But the most crazy sounding is the Po Boy, with corn meal fried prawns, cajun corn cream sauce, cajun slaw, and cheese.  Since this was my first time having poutine, I had to go classic, but, if I were to get a chance to return, the Po Boy has my name all over it.  I think their most photographed version is the "smoked meat poutine" with gravy and cheese curds, plus pulled pork, bbq sauce AND 2 huge bone-in ribs.  Like I said, whatever you want to throw on top of some fries counts.

We let our Canadian co-workers take the lead in ordering.  The first ordered classic poutine and stepped aside.  The second ordered classic poutine.  At this point, I interrupted, a bit confused, "uh, wait, is that your ... dinner?  I thought we'd get some poutine to share and all get our own mains?"  I clearly didn't understand how this was done.  Fries covered in gravy and cheese is ... a meal?  Hmm.  But I wanted to try some main dishes too!  (Which, don't worry, I could.  It turns out, all of the mains come with one side, normally just salad/soup/fries, but you can upgrade to poutine for $3, so I could get both, without sharing with the whole group).  These folks just wanted poutine for dinner, so, ok.  The final person in our party opted for pizza instead.

Speaking of pizza, as with the poutine, the selection was a bit crazy, like a "Taco Pizza" with salsa for sauce, ground beef, shredded lettuce, tomatoes, cheese, and sour cream, among many others.

The drink selection wasn't too interesting, just canned soda, bottled water (no sparkling), and a couple beers.
Inside Seating.
The restaurant is fairly small, with just a handful of booths and tables.  On each table was salt and pepper, and packets of mustard, ketchup, relish, and vinegar.  It sorta reminded me of a pizza parlor you'd find in small town America.
Outside Seating.
But we opted to sit outside, as it was a warm summer night, a rare treat for those of us visiting from San Francisco.

Outside was a covered area with large wooden picnic tables.  We settled in and waited, eagerly.  The first of our food came out after about 10 minutes, all the orders of original poutine.  And .... that was it.  Nothing else seemed to be coming, so we urged those who ordered this "dinner" to dive in.  A bit later, the sole pizza came out.  It seemed hot and fresh.  Finally, about 5 minutes after that, my entree, with poutine on the side, finally arrived.  I assumed that since things were arriving at these intervals that they were bringing things as they were ready.  But mine, sadly, wasn't hot and fresh.  I think it was probably ready much earlier, just waiting for the server to have a chance to bring it out.  Doh.


 (1/2 portion) Baked Hot Dog $11.75 + Side of Classic Poutine $3.
"Jumbo foot long on a soft toasted baguette, baked with cheese, bacon and tomato with jalapeño mayo on the side - choice of side."

So yes, I went for an entree, rather than getting just poutine for my meal.

I had my eyes on one entree in particular: a baked hot dog!  I'd seen photos and knew it was huge (full foot long!), as was the serving of poutine on the side, and I knew we were also getting dessert, so I got Ojan to split it with me.  The kitchen nicely split it for us, bringing out a platter for each of us, but that does mean I don't have a fun photo to show of the full foot long hot dog.

So, yes, the hot dog.  I saw so many photos of this thing, and read so many reviews.  You may laugh, but sometimes, wow, I can really like a hot dog.

And this was a good hot dog.  The bun was really soft and fluffy, although there really was a ton of bread.  Imagine this thing as a full size!

Under the dog was slices of raw tomatoes.  Now, that didn't really make sense to me.  Why?  They weren't particularly ripe either.

On top was melted cheese and crispy enough bacon.  Oh yes.  These components would have been good, except the cheese was really congealed.  It seemed like it had been sitting for quite a while.  Boo.

But the dog itself was pretty great, my photo doesn't show it, but it was slit and crispy on top, juicy on the inside, just how I like it.

I realize now that I never received the jalapeño mayo.  It normally comes on the side, and, perhaps when splitting the dish, they forgot it?  I too forgot it, as I was too busy discovering my poutine, but I love mayo and would have really appreciated it.

Overall though, I really liked the dog.  Slightly less bread, lose the tomato, and serve it hot, and it would be a contender for best hot dog ever.  It was pretty delicious even with these flaws.

And then ... the poutine.  My first poutine.

"Fresh cut fries, gravy & Quebec Cheese Curds."

I dug in cautiously.  The fries looked kinda soggy.  And were totally soaked in gravy.  This was strange.

I'm used to evaluating a fry based on its crispy nature.  I couldn't do that here.  But, the fries were good.  Not too oily, good flavor. Not that you could really tell, as they were absolutely smothered in the gravy.

The gravy was a classic brown gravy.  It was salty.  It was really quite flavorful and good, but so strange to have on my fries.  Then again, I slather mashed potatoes in gravy, so, why not slather other potato products?  It makes sense, it just isn't something I'd ever had before.  That all said, there really was too much gravy.  I wanted an occasional plain fry as some relief from the high salt content and strong flavor, and I really couldn't find any.  Others agreed that theirs had too much gravy as well, but I have no idea if that is normal for poutine?

And then ... the cheese curds, the final essential element of poutin.  This is where I just wasn't a fan.  I had quasi-warm fries, with cold lumps of cheese curd.  Why would I want cold cheese lumps?  I commented on this, and was told that normally the hot fries and hot gravy melt the cheese.  That didn't happen here.  So perhaps this was just an execution problem, not a problem with the entire concept?  I do like cheese curds after all.  Amusingly, Ojan really liked the cheese curds, and kept commenting on how he couldn't stop eating poutine, that is, until he ran out of curds.  To each his own.

So if I were to return, yes, I'd get the hot dog again, except I'd leave off the tomato, make sure I got my mayo, and hope it came out fresher.  The baked dog, with its bacon and cheese, really is a great idea.  And yes, I'd get the poutine again, although, I kinda think I'd just prefer fries with gravy on the side, so I could control how much gravy there was.  Or, maybe, just maybe, I'd try that crazy po boy version, but then, I really would consider my fries "dinner".
Classic Canuck Pizza. $12.
"Three kinds of pig! Our very own pulled pork, ham and bacon with mixed cheese."

As I mentioned, one person opted for pizza, and went for the classic.  It was clear that this is normally intended to be split.  She barely made a dent in it.

Ojan decided to try a slice, and thus, I snuck a bite.  I really didn't like it.  The cheese tasted exactly like the cheese from the pizza place in my hometown that I never like, and my family always gets pizza from.  As did the sauce.  I couldn't appreciate the toppings, nor the crust, since I was instantly transported back to that pizza I always hated.

Ojan however loved it.  Even after eating most of his entree, and knowing we had dessert on its way, he still went back for another slice (which, he did later regret).  He raved about the pizza even later and said he'd gladly return for the pizza.

The $12 price was great for a full size meat loaded pizza.


And then, the other reason we were there: dessert of course!  You know me, I'm a dessert girl, through and through.

Of course, I was stuffed at this point.  I was full of carbs, cheese, and pork products.  And I was really happy, and satisfied.  Yes, there were flaws with each of my dishes, but, I really found them quite delicious.

But, we had to try the dessert, right?  The dessert menu was pretty simple.  Plain ice cream or ... "The Snowshoe".  This is their version of a BeaverTail, which, as I understand it, is Canadian fried dough, topped with assorted toppings.

Um, yes?
Snowshoe #1: Caramel. $4.25.
"Warm, fluffly dough topped with homemade berry sauce, vanilla ice cream and cinnamon sugar."

We opted to order several Snowshoes for the group.  The server cleared our other plates, taking away most of the silverware.  I held on to mine.  I was the only one.

She brought out the first one when it was ready, and walked away.  She didn't bring any silverware or share plates.  I figured she'd be right back with those, and the other Snowshoes.

I waited a few minutes, politely, fork in hand, watching our hot fried dough quickly getting cold!  Sigh.  Like the savory food, the other orders were no where in sight, nor was our server.  I finally dug in, apologizing to the group.  I just couldn't take it any longer.

It was ... ok.  Yes, fried dough, with some cinnamon and sugar, but you could barely taste the cinnamon and sugar, since it was drowned out by a berry sauce, sorta like the generous amount of gravy on the poutine.  I didn't really like the berry sauce.  I can't say why exactly, it just wasn't for me.  And, like the poutine, I just couldn't escape it.  Just like I couldn't find a plain fry, I couldn't get a bite of dough without it.

The ice cream was just generic vanilla on top, two big scoops.

When we ordered, our server asked us if we'd like "chocolate, caramel, or strawberry".  We thought we were choosing the topping, but really, we were just choosing which sauce was drizzled under it, so this wasn't actually the strawberry one, it was the caramel one.   I didn't really taste much caramel, and I think it was just standard sundae sauce from a squeeze bottle, nothing house-made.
Snowshoe #2: Chocolate.
Eventually, another one came out.  This was the "chocolate" one.  Again, just generic chocolate sauce under it.  The ice cream on this was a single jagged blob, rather than two scoops like the first.  The fried dough itself was also more jagged.  I actually liked this one more, as it was more fried, more crispy.  But it still had the awful berry sauce.
Snowshoe #3: Strawberry.
And finally, the third one, "strawberry".  It had a thin red sauce under it, different from the housemade berry sauce on top.  And a totally different shaped blob of ice cream on top.  Plating consistency is not there strong point.

I tried all the versions, and had far more than my share, since no one else was able to really help out at this point.  Everyone was stuffed.  And I was too, but, well, I can't resist dessert.  I rather wish I had though, because these just weren't that great.

If I were to return, I'm pretty sure I'd, gasp, skip dessert, and just devour more poutine.  Or I'd have them leave off the berry sauce (and the ice cream too ...).  I really just wanted the fried dough with whipped cream perhaps, but that wasn't an option.

Each order is normally $4.25, but they brought these to us on the house.  Thank you Crazy Canuck!
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